Monday, July 3, 2017

The difference between not going to church and leaving it.

I once came upon a very interesting statement made by a priest, known for his great insights.  He said that there is a prevailing sentiment that there are so many people, both young and old, who are leaving the church.  This prevailing statement or belief, he said, may not be accurate at all.  He surmised that it could be rather that they are simply not going to church.  Their absence from the Sunday congregation, large though they may be in some countries, may not be indicative of their leaving it. 

What this writer said got me thinking this week, as I met quite a few people who were baptized Catholics but were not frequent churchgoers.  They were what some would call the ‘carry, marry, bury’ Catholics – those who would be carried to the baptismal font as infants, marry dutifully in church, and when their lives come to an end, have a funeral Mass or service in the church.  Technically, these people have not actually left the church per se.  To leave the church entails one to denounce the faith and to state somewhat categorically - that one no longer believes that one is saved by Jesus Christ.  I don’t think I have met any Catholic who has renounced his or her faith with such clarity and vehemence.  It is a very bold statement to make, akin to someone wanting to cut off oneself from all family ties.

Even if one chooses to live outside of the Church’s moral teachings and the life of grace, one doesn’t technically get severed from the love and care of the Church.  In choosing a lifestyle that is incongruous to the Church’s moral teachings, one may not have, with full intent and full will, turned one’s back on wanting the life of grace.  In truth, only God can see what goes on in the person’s heart, and who is to say that there is not even one shard of one’s heart that still loves God and wants to honour him?  This, I think, is where the grace of Divine Mercy will always be the thread that one can use to be pulled back into the loving embrace of God. 

Perhaps what lies at the heart of not going to Church is that most people are unaware of what going to Church does to one.  I am quite certain that most people are ignorant of the treasure that God bestows on each person who assiduously avails himself whenever he fulfills what the Church calls the ‘obligation’ of weekly Mass.  Understanding it as an obligation is different from appreciating it as an obligation to receive something from God.  What the Church is really saying is that we need God’s grace in order to be the best possible versions of ourselves that God had always wanted us to be.  Only living in God’s grace can we ever hope to attain that state. 

Perhaps the one problem about catechesis and anything catechetical is that it doesn’t have an automatic mass appeal.  Its truths and its beauty may be real, but it is not something that is ‘viral’.  It definitely needs the work of grace to be one who is somehow more tuned in to God and the call to holiness than the average person. 

But there is also good that the truths of the faith are not going ‘viral’.  The downside to anything viral is that it dies off as quickly as it caught fire.  The truths of our faith are never going to die off.  If it does, it simply means that it was never the truth.

If one has left the church because one had not had an adequate understanding of faith and its fundamentals, one would be guiltier of ignorance than of genuine apostasy.

If you are a parent reading this reflection, and have a child or maybe even a few children who have stopped going to Church, my advice is that you do not give up on praying for them.  Just as a parent doesn’t stop loving their children even if they don’t return the love given, neither should our praying for them cease.  It will be their continued link to the body of Christ, which I am glad to say, isn’t so easily severed.


  1. Thanks Fr Luke for this! I fall in yr last paragraph.

  2. Thank you Father Luke for the gift of hoe

  3. Not a day goes by when I do not have the need to hear this. Good to know that a priest understands. Thanks for the spiritual uplift Father Luke

  4. This is so powerful coming from you. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for your affirmation! I know I shall not give up.

  6. If one does not practise the faith, he or she is as good as having left the faith. Going to church means

    1. Attending Sunday Mass
    2. Attending classes eg Sunday class or BAT class
    3. Participating in the parish community

    If one does not want to attend Sunday Mass to
    1 celebrate Christ's victory over Sin,

    2.receive the Eucharist to be the branches that remain in the vine (Christ) and bear fruits and risen up on the last day (John 6:54)

    Then the person who does not go to church has actually left the church - substance over form.

  7. Thanks for the wonderful insight and perspective, Fr Luke! Finally someone within the Church who understands the others who, for their own reasons, do not attend Sunday Mass regularly.

    Archaic concepts and approaches to faith (eg see Anonymous July 6, 2017 at 1:11pm) is precisely why many people leave the Church permanently! Many do not attend Sunday Mass regularly but they do not consider themselves as leaving the faith. They still consider themselves Catholic and faithful Christians. What happens is that others like 'Anonymous July 6, 2017 at 1:11pm' judge them and the Church discards them.

  8. Fr is merely pointing out that God will not forget such persons and we should not too readily condemn them:
    1. The parable of The Prudigal Son
    2. The plight and prayer of St Monica for her son and the advice of St Ambrose
    How St. Monica Can Help Your Child Return to the Church | Word On Fire
    We do not give up, even if they have
    Whar we can't ; God can!